On Infrastructure: Common ground is there for the taking
© Getty Images

Stand on a rising Virginia hillside just inside Arlington National Cemetery and look east.

In the foreground is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, arguably one of Washington, D.C.’s most beautiful—and utilitarian—structures. It symbolically links north and south in its alignment between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. The adjacent Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway terminus, the Watergate steps, and monumental equestrian statuary join with the bridge to create a formal western terminus of the National Mall at the edge of the Potomac River.

ADVERTISEMENT

Since its 1932 opening, funeral corteges have crossed the majestic nine-arch span on their way to burial. President John F. Kennedy’s cortege crossed after his assassination in 1963; his brother Robert’s funeral crossed by moonlight in 1968. Taken from the vantage point of the cemetery’s grounds, iconic photos of these processions have been cathartic for millions of mourners.

The bridge has been the focal point for thousands of bikers in annual Rolling Thunder rides aimed at bringing full accountability for prisoners of war and those missing in action. It’s been an easy access route for thousands of tour buses heading to the Lincoln and other nearby memorials. And it has been a major commuter route for D.C. area workers; carrying nearly 70,000 vehicles daily.

Unfortunately, the Memorial Bridge is now also symbolic of something else: the neglect and failure of elected leaders, particularly at the federal level, to invest in our transportation infrastructure network. It is on the list of more than 47,000 “structurally deficient” U.S. bridges (artbabridgereport.org) outlined in an April 2019 report by my organization, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. Cars, trucks and school buses cross these compromised structures 178 million times every day, the data shows.

A long-overdue replacement of the Memorial Bridge began in late 2018, but only after public outrage and last-minute emergency action from Congress. In the meantime, a 10-ton load limit remains in effect until the rehabilitation is completed sometime in 2021. This means school buses, beverage trucks, city transit buses, tour buses and semi tractors are banned from crossing it.

Other signs of the nation’s infrastructure challenges have been highlighted in recent months:

So, what can be done?

The most pressing priority: finding a permanent revenue solution for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the source, on average, of more than 50 percent of all highway and bridge capital investments made annually by state transportation departments. The fund is in a world of financial hurt. Without new revenue, starting in 2021, states could face a 40 percent cut in investment.

This week, nearly 500 transportation construction executives will be in town to meet with their members of Congress. “Fix the Highway Trust Fund Now” will be the primary message they deliver to lawmakers.

All revenue options for fixing the trust fund, including an increase in the federal gas tax and new freight-related user fees, should be on the table.

Contrary to assertions from prognosticators and pundits, supporting a gas tax increase will not end political careers. Since 2013, 30 states have raised or adjusted their state gas tax to increase transportation investment. In the past two years, this includes seven states run by Republicans. Voters have re-elected 92 percent of nearly 1,900 state lawmakers who voted in favor of a gas tax increase 2013-2018 and ran for re-election. Support for lawmakers persists across party lines — over 90 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans were re-elected. It’s time for members of Congress to demonstrate similar backbone.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' MORE (D-Calif.) and other congressional leaders have reportedly agreed to meet again soon to discuss how to pay for the $2 trillion in infrastructure spending they agreed to on April 30.

On a new and robust transportation infrastructure package, common ground is there for the taking. We encourage President Trump and members of Congress to “bridge” their political differences and travel the high road together to get the job done.

Dave Bauer is president & CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Road & Transportation Builders Association.